To impact the world in which we live, the Church reminds us that in order to change our world, we must work on changing ourselves. Christ needs to come to dwell in us in a real and tangible way if we are to reach out to a thirsty, dying world. Saint Dorotheus tells us that the spiritual work we do on ourselves is a silent work on our neighbors. Consequently, our focus must be our inner life: deeply devoted and committed personal prayer, frequent confession and Communion, pain staking repentance, attending worship services and living a Eucharistic life, doing inward works of mercy, etc. These may seem selfish to some, but the reality is that our inner life and disposition qualify what we do outwardly.
Therefore we are not to refrain from all the normal “outward” religious activities, nor are we to disdain them. However, we do prioritize putting the inner spiritual life first, and then the good outward works become a manifestation of inward spiritual growth and vitality. We may be become barren and joyless if we constantly give to others without a deep commitment to a life of personal and corporate prayer which centers our life and hope on the Eucharist and our time with the Lord alone. Saint Silouan tells us that the principle way we show our love for God is in our life of prayer, for prayer is a matter of love.
If we really wish to expand our Orthodox mission, we must work with all our energy to continue to evangelize and re-evangelize ourselves, studying and praying to make the mind of the Church our own, seeking God deep in our own hearts, “for the kingdom of God is within you.” It is only when we focus on this inner existence of the heart that we will have real life from Christ to offer to the dying world, remembering all the while that we cannot give what we do not have.
Archimandrite Sergius is the Abbot of Saint Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA.